One month after it went online in 2011 as a place for victims of bullying to express their feelings, the You Will Rise Project received a submission from a teenage girl in the UK.
Morven Fik created a mask, oversized and subsuming the entire body of the figure behind it. The mask was covered with words of hate: queer, weirdo, poof, fat, fugly and more.
She submitted another piece last December, in the form of a letter to founders Paul Richmond and Linda Regula. Fik is now studying mental health nursing and plans to specialize in art therapy.
“Having people compliment my work,” she said, “being able to see other people’s work on the same subject, it brightened my mood.”
For the past two years, the You Will Rise Project has offered victims of bullying an outlet through art. Regula, of Zanesville, Ohio, and Richmond, of Columbus, based its name on the iconography of a phoenix, a bird that emerges from the ashes of its predecessor, more beautiful and more powerful than ever.
To them, it was the perfect metaphor for overcoming bullying, but the phoenix also had a storied history for one of the project’s founders.
When Regula was a fifth-grader in West Virginia, her teacher explained to the class the phoenix’s mythology and assigned everyone an art project about it. Regula, who didn’t have much interest in art, found the phoenix inspiring and drew a picture that was chosen as the best in the class.
She was proud, but her glory was short-lived. The teacher left the classroom for a moment, and a bully snatched her drawing from the board and ripped it into pieces in front of everyone.
Regula was bullied for most of her young life. It wasn’t until she moved that she found a way to channel her experience into something positive. She disproved the bully’s claims years later, establishing herself as a visual artist, novelist and art instructor.
One day she was asked to mentor a 4-year-old boy named Paul who had shown a knack for drawing.
“Neither of my parents had any kind of artistic background,” Richmond said about how he and Regula met. “One of their neighbors was a student of Linda’s and recommended her.”
They ended up working together once a week until Richmond finished high school and headed for the Columbus College of Art & Design. She taught him how to express himself through his art, how to tell stories and how to channel the pain of bullying into something positive.
Richmond, who was relentlessly picked on for being gay, drew inspiration from Regula’s approach to art.
“Her paintings were huge and vibrant, it was like walking into Oz.”
Richmond graduated from CCAD in 2002 and currently resides in Columbus. He and Regula have remained close, and their ongoing relationship and artistic partnership eventually yielded the You Will Rise Project, which they founded in response to the suicide epidemic among bullied youth, particularly those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Since the two of them had been bullied – and had found refuge in art – they decided to create a website to showcase artwork from people who were in the midst of bullying as a way of providing them with an audience and a support system.
You Will Rise receives multiple submissions every day – more than 700 since April 2011 – and their goal is to allow each post its own day to be featured.
“Each person has their time,” Richmond said. “That way they can feel a little more empowered by it.”
The diversity of the work has been a refreshing surprise for the founders. Many submissions come from beginners, including young children, as well as from established professionals. From the beginning, the team was adamant about preserving the work as it was received.
“It’s not censored, we don’t edit anything, even grammatical issues,” Richmond said. “Some of them can be very intense.”
Bullying can happen at home or at school, or both, and each case is unique. Some of the time, bullies themselves have been victimized and opt to use their feelings of hate or frustration and project it on others. Part of the You Will Rise Project’s goal is to create an avenue for expression that prevents kids from continuing that cycle.
“A bully wants you to feel silenced,” Richmond said. “If they can get into your head and make you think that nobody wants to hear what you have to say, then they’ve won. The website is about building a community for people so they know they’re not alone.”